Kaspar Social Stories
We’ve been fortunate enough to get some great publicity around our pilot study with the Kaspar social robot over the past couple of months. ABC News ran a spot with us on their TV bulletin and news radio. The new UNSW Disability Innovation Institute also put together an article about my work with Kaspar and the importance of creative practice in disability research (I plan to write another post about the Disability Innovation Institute in the coming days).
I’m collaborating with David Silvera from the CSIRO on the Kaspar project. We have recently finished our first exploratory study with Kaspar and 3 autistic boys under the age of 5. The first study was led by myself at the Creative Robotics Lab and was a clear lesson on the importance of engaging domain expertise: I don’t have a background in therapy or education, and found it quite difficult to redirect the attention of the child toward Kaspar when he was distracted (which happened regularly). This led to us re-thinking our approach to the study design.
The final 2 studies were carried out between a psychologist and child in a therapy space. In addition to engaging the specialist knowledge of a therapist to lead the study, this allowed us to conduct the research in a space that was familiar to each child and therefore less overwhelming or overstimulating. In these studies, Kaspar was used as a ‘peer’ in social story activities.
Social stories were developed as a targeted approach for each child in consultation with their parents. We would develop activities relevant to each child, to introduce social and communication skills in a context specific to the child. During these sessions, Kaspar would be used as a tool for facilitating these stories. In therapy where a peer (such as another child) might be used to help an autistic child learn social interaction skills, we believe Kaspar could be a useful scaffolding tool to prepare some children for this kind of interaction. Where the interaction of a human can be ambiguous and complex, the responses of Kaspar are clear and repeatable.
With the positive response we received from the children and their parents, as well as the great stories that came out of the study, we hope to expand the research through collaboration with autism services and practitioners.